packaging, part two

The packaging crowd-sourcing project I mentioned last week has been really fascinating and useful.

Some wonderful women (all women, yeah!) have sent in photos of their chocolates (and the occasional curious cat and grumpy tot in the background) and I’ve studied them carefully. The consensus is: better packaging is totes needed–but really only with the Big Assortment boxes. Good to know. (We’re also going to put a small candy pad on top of the Bonbons boxes, to prevent them from jumping all over the place.

Here’s my next idea, courtesy of my sweetheart (who was once an engineering major in college, before he swiftly switched to music. Somehow those 2 semesters mean that I always consult “my engineer” about all tactical problems.): dividers!

Like this (click to enlarge!):

Looks nice, no?

Let’s see how it goes. If you get a Big Assortment (just the mixed one linked to above, not the truffle big assortment— that one packs like a dream since all the truffles are the same size), the same deal applies as before:

If you’d be so kind as to take nice good photos of your chocolate order, then send them to me at chef@lagustasluscious.com, I’ll make a note to either (your choice):

  • Slip two chocolate bars into a padded envelope to send to you ASAP as a thank-you

OR

  • Send you a free box ($12 or $15 box of your choice) with your next chocolate order, as long as you order within six months or so, because otherwise the paperwork to remember the freebies would get annoying.

 

(As of this time, the previous plan, of free chocolate with photos of any order, is discontinued. Thanks for your help!)

Thank you, thank you!

 

BEHOLD!!!!!!

Oh my darlings.

SO much happened yesterday, what with me signing my name seemingly hundreds of times and then watching congratulations roll in on my own Facebook page and the Bonbons page, that I forgot to update the this here blog with THE BIG NEWS!

SO BIG!

Are you ready?

After 11 months of finagling, my sweetheart and I just closed on this fine wreck of a building in New Paltz! Just 15 minutes by bike from my house (three by car), this sad sack sweetheart needs some TLC, but around the end of May or so you’re cordially invited to the grand opening of the new LL HQ! It’s going to be our fabulous fabrication space plus a tiny little candy counter/chocolate shop, with maybe some savories sprinkled in too (homemade tempeh? croissants? maybe! maybe!).

(Buying the building was a real ordeal. If you want to read 3,000 words about my external and external struggles with it, here they are!)

I’ll be blogging a bit about the renovation process so you can share my joy/frustration/aggravation, too. Lots of before and after photos coming soon…

Take a deep breath! As my old Australian housemate, a male model named Peter with the bluest eyes and sweetest soul you’ve ever seen, used to say, “IT’S ALL HAPPENING, LG!” (he called me LG. Australians and their nicknames, you know?)

Yeah!

brunch: french toast + potatoes and onions

I had a few beloved out-of-town visitors up to see the gorgeous upstate New York sights this weekend. They came at a perfect time, because I’m trying to distract myself from stressing out about this BIG GIANT HUGE INSANE thing happening tomorrow (check back here tomorrow for the update!!!!), so I decided to distract myself the best way I know how: cooking.

I decided to make a little brunch for us.

At first it was just going to be this french toast that I make almost every time I have sleepover guests–especially ones that aren’t vegan, because I enjoy how much nonvegans tell me that it tastes like “real” french toast. But then I realized I had a whole bunch of potatoes sprouting away in the back room at work, and I needed to test out some matzo candy for work (coming soon!) and I had just made a truly giant pot of beans, and off we were.

I know it breaks all laws of food blogging to not include a photo with a recipe, but I think my pal Cesilie took a whole bunch of photos with her fancy camera, so I’ll update this post when I get ’em. For now I wanted to share my somewhat of a work-in-progress (aren’t they all, always?) french toast recipe. Let me know what you think!

Oh, and after much trial and error, I think I’ve perfected my taters & onions recipe. Here goes: parboil the potatoes. This is the key. Cut them into bite-sized pieces, boil in salted water (or roast, in their jackets!) until just barely tender but not as soft as you’d want them to eat them, then caramelize a bunch of onions and toss the potatoes with them, add a few good pinches of paprika/smoked paprika/chile powder/chili powder (your pick), sea salt, lots of pepper, and lots of olive oil. Then roast at 400°F or so until they are deliciously crispy and browned. Today I tossed them with some amazing roasted Hatch chiles I had, and…oh man, so good.

As was the:

FRENCH TOAST

1/4  cup chickpea flour. Bob’s Red Mill makes a chickpea flour, and it’s also available (usually cheaper) in Indian markets, where it might be labeled “besan” or “gram flour.” You could also use rice flour, tapioca starch, or egg replacer powder, but I like chickpea the best

1 cup coconut milk or Soy Nog. Around the holidays when Soy Nog is available, I use that, otherwise I’m a coco milk fan.

Peasant bread, sourdough bread, French or Italian bread, thickly sliced. Basically any kind of nice spongy bread with a relatively open crumb (not a super artisanal baguette that’s more air than bread, for example). Not a bread with a tight crumb, like 11-grain, or a fake bread, like Wonderbread or anything.)

1/4 teaspoon eggnog flavoring, optional

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

Nutmeg to taste

Cinnamon to taste, 1/2 teaspoon or so

Coconut oil or grape seed oil, for frying

For serving: powdered sugar, maple syrup, coconut cream (I use my little iSi whip to make instant coconut milk whipped cream and it is AMAZING.), strawberries, etc.

  1. Whisk together all ingredients except bread and oil. (I like to do this the night before. The batter is smoother if allowed to sit overnight, too.)
  2. Dip bread in liquid, then fry in hot oil until golden brown on both sides.
  3. Serve with maple syrup, coco cream, powdered sugar, etc.

I just realized I have no notes on how much it makes. Hmm, maybe 8 pieces or so? I’ll let you know the next time I make it!

packaging solutions (FREE CHOCOLATE)

Chocolates are a great thing to sell if you’re an out-of-control OCD freak.

They really lend themselves to that sensibility, what with their myriad needs: meltiness, fragility, perishability, tininess.

However, they are not such a great thing to sell if you are a hardcore environmental activist who worries endlessly about the huge amount of packaging materials needed to solve the above problems filling up landfills until the end of time.

I happen to be a combination of both, which means that I worry about packaging pretty much non-stop.

Here are some random thoughts on the Lagusta’s Luscious packaging world. If you slog your way through this, there is a free gift for you at the end!

OK, you have to do more than read, you have to take photos of your orders and send them to me, but…just keep reading. FREE CHOCOLATE!

So here’s the deal.

The bonbons are packaged in GLORIOUS custom boxes that, I think, fit them pretty snugly. We measured everything like a zillion times to make sure they would pack nice and tight. The boxes are also insanely eco-friendly—they’re biodegradable, because they are printed with soy inks and recycled paper. I put one in my compost last fall and it had disappeared in two months. They’re tied with vegetable-cellulose ribbon that’s also compostable. Super rad.

(Oh, and the gift wrap [seen in the photo at the top] is also made of recycled paper and tied with a vegetable cellulose black grosgrain ribbon!)

The truffles, most Chocolates of the Month, and the anatomical hearts (as of yet not online, but—secret trick!—if you want to order a box, just order a box of truffles, {they’re the same price} and in the “instructions to sender” box write that you want the hearts instead!) are packed in bleached white boxes. Sigh. They are recyclable, but that’s about it. My goal is to get custom boxes printed up for them, but these days all my extra business income is being funneled into a GIANT HUGE PROJECT I might be able to announce next week or so (!!!!!!), and this means that we’ll have to live with the regular white boxes for, realistically, probably a year or so, considering how long it takes to get custom boxes designed, printed and…um…saved-up for.

Perhaps needless to say, a printed-out sticker for those heart boxes is coming soon, because MY HANDS CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE.

I think the white boxes take pretty good care of their contents, however. We pack them with a lot of these little cushiony quilted paper pads (OK, they are called “candy pads.” Go ahead and laugh, it’s OK). They mean that we don’t have to do what every other chocolate company I’ve ever seen does and put one of those plastic divider trays into the box. (It also means we can fit more chocos in a smaller box!). The candy pads work pretty well, but if any of you geniuses out there have other ideas on how to pack eco-friendly, food-safe, shipping-safe boxes, I’d love to hear them.

The Big Assortment boxes are packed in larger white boxes, and these are somewhat of a fiasco. Because they are assortments and thus contain chocolates of different heights, they are hard to pack. I think I’ve come up with a good solution, but it involves three big giant candy pads, which adds up to a lot of bleached white padding stuff.

Still, it’s much, much less waste than if we used plastic trays.

Now, one solution to this would be to make chocolates that are not so fragile.

Most other dark chocolate peanut butter cups I’ve ever seen have super thick shells that mean you can basically toss them against a wall and they won’t break (they might break your teeth if they are cold, however. Also, it’s not very sanitary to be eating chocolate you’ve thrown against a wall.). (Or the chocolate shells are “chocolate” made with so many preservatives that they have no snap to them at all, and contain precious little actual chocolate.) Ours have (or, at least, strive to have) gossamer thin shells that instantly yield to your warm mouth. I prefer this gustatory experience—impossibly thin shells are the ne plus ultra of a bonbon to me, and I won’t settle for anything less.

That’s fine, but it means we’re stuck wrapping them like glass.

The other solution we use, in addition to candy pads, is to use a lot of padding in the outer box. Sometimes people complain about it, even though it’s all either reused (upcycled, if you prefer) or completely eco-friendly (seriously, you can eat those cornstarch packing peanuts. I ate one last week. [it was a dare, OK?]).

In my mind, everyone can always use packaging materials (hey and if you live locally, you’re more than welcome to bring them back to me. Then again, if you live locally, why are we shipping your chocolates?), but no one wants to pay for broken and smashed and smooshed chocolates. Whenever I decide we’re overpacking and decide to take a chance with shipping in smaller boxes with less packaging materials, like this smallish box:

this happens:

The physical pain this photo causes me is intense and awful, and truly, I would do almost anything to not have this pain ever again.

(Here is what they are supposed to look like.)

The Post Office is a mean mistress, chocolate lovers! She often does not listen to fragile stickers! (Or….sometimes we forget to put them on because we’re rushing like maniacs because it’s 4:50 and the PO closes in 10 minutes and it’s a 3 minute drive away and WHY WON’T THE PRINTER PRINT THE LABELS? COME ON, PRINTER!)

So until you can all move to New Paltz and buy chocolates from us directly, we’re going to be trying to find a balance between eco-friendliness and chocolate intact-ness. In the next few weeks we’re going to be tinkering around with our packaging solutions, and you, being the one receiving the packaging, can help us tremendously in this.

Here’s the deal (it involves FREE CHOCOLATE):

If you take nice good photos of your chocolate order, then send them to me at chef@lagustasluscious.com, I’ll make a note to either (your choice):

  • Slip two chocolate bars into a padded envelope to send to you ASAP as a thank-you

OR

  • Send you a free box ($12 or $15 box of your choice) with your next chocolate order, as long as you order within six months or so, because otherwise the paperwork to remember the freebies would get annoying.

Sound like a plan? Crowd-sourcing, here we go! And needless to say, if your chocolates arrive looking like those above, we’ll definitely make it right.

Thank you!!!

xoxo

Lagusta

February 2011 Chocolate of the Month

Where do all the Chocolate of the Months go when the month is over?

There is an archive page where my brilliant web guru, Erin, puts up a small snapshot of all the previous chocolates, but I want to remember them in all their many photo’d, overly prose’d glory. So, in the next few days I’m going to be putting up blog posts with details of the previous CotMs for posterity. Sound good?

Let’s kick things off with February!

The giant photo album of gorgeous photos of this month’s chocolate is online here—really, it’s worth a gawk.

February 2011 Chocolate of the Month: Valentine’s Bonbons

Here we are: the hot pink bullseye at the middle of the chocolate year. For this special Valentine’s month, I wanted to create a chocolate box that would encompass everything I know about love. Thus, this box represents what I see as the two key aspects of love. The sweet simple heart shape is filled with rosewater (dairy-free) cream, punctuated with a high note of pomegranate. It’s smooth and sweet as a Sunday stroll with the love of your life. This chocolate represents those beautiful, perfect, simple days where love makes you feel utterly content, adored, and safe. Nice. Fun. Cute. All that good stuff.

The anatomical heart, on the other hand, is the equally beautiful but often bloody and wild side of love: the kind of love that leaves your heart pounding, your pulse racing–an almost out-of-control intensity that can be a little terrifying, but is deeply healthy in the long run. This represents the kind of love that reminds you you’re alive in the deepest sense, for the times when your heart is raw and feels like it’s beating on the outside of your body. This is an intense bonbon. It’s a solid chocolate made with 66% dark chocolate, packed with lightly crushed cacao nibs, locally-roasted coffee beans, black salt enriched with volcanic minerals, and crunchy bits of bright dried cherries. It’s painted with red-tinted cocoa butter that’s colored with an all-natural beet juice-based food coloring, because while love does sometimes hurt, it shouldn’t have anything to do with anything fake–especially artificial food coloring.

kitchen for rent!

To be frank: electricity and propane bills at the kitchen (and, for that matter, at my house) are eating me alive. And since I’m only doing chocolates these days and not the meal delivery as well, I’m not at work every day (yay!). So, I’m looking to share my kitchen 1-3 days a week with a like-minded business. If you know anyone, please pass this info along. Contact me at chef@lagustasluscious.com if you’re interested!

The kitchen details:

  • The kitchen is in Rosendale, NY, on route 32.
  • It consists of one large room, one office, one bathroom, and one back room for storage.
  • Ample parking
  • The kitchen is fully licensed with the NYS Ag and Markets department (it’s licensed under my business though).
  • Two a/c units
  • Wall propane heating unit
  • Three ovens, one a super sweet pizza oven
  • Four gas burners
  • Dishwasher and three-sink
  • Pots and pans, bowls and all kinds of utensils you can use.
  • Vita-mix blender, Cuisinart, standing mixer, all kinds of machines.
  • Food storage containers large and small
  • Walk-in fridge with speed rack with pans
  • Three freezers
  • Wifi
  • Butcher block cutting board table
  • Full fire suppression system
  • 100% eco-friendly cleaning supplies

I am:

  • Neat and tidy! Everything in its place, a place for everything.
  • Flexible with my schedule–hooray for working for myself! I try to take Sundays off.
  • Entirely vegan, as is the kitchen.

You are:

  • Neat and tidy! Everything in its place, a place for everything.
  • Looking to rent a kitchen for 1-3 days a week. Days are flexible, but Sunday would be ideal.
  • Run a vegan or vegetarian food business.

Rent: $75 per 24 hours.

So cheap!!

Interested? Contact me at chef@lagustasluscious.com.